NEW YORK (AFP) - US authorities said Saturday they foiled an Islamic terrorist plot to bomb fuel supplies and pipelines at John F. Kennedy airport, averting a potentially catastrophic attack and "unthinkable" carnage at and around the massive airfield.
Four suspected Islamic extremists -- including Abdul Kadir, a former member of Guyana's parliament -- have been charged over the alleged plot, which officials said had links to international terrorist cells in the Caribbean and South America but was foiled well before it could be carried out.
"Had the plot been carried out, it could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths, and destruction," US Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said, telling reporters in New York the plan was "one of the most chilling plots imaginable," barely three weeks after the arrest of six suspected Islamic radicals on charges of plotting to attack a US military base in New Jersey.
"The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable," she stressed.
The plot allegedly tapped into Jamaat Al Muslimeen, described by justice officials as an international network of Muslim extremists from the United States, Guyana, and Trinidad.
Anti-terrorist forces arrested one of the defendants, Russell Defreitas, a former employee at JFK, in New York on Friday.
In Port-of-Spain, Commissioner of Police Trevor Paul said that Guyanese ex-legislator Kadir and Trinidadian Kareem Ibrahim were arrested in Trinidad on Friday and Saturday respectively.
Kadir is a former mayor and lawmaker in his country with the Peoples National Congress Reform-One Guyana (PNCR-1G).
The fourth defendant, Abdel Nur, also a Guyanese citizen, is believed to be hiding in Trinidad and Tobago, Paul said, though US officials said they believed he was at large in Guyana.
Defreitas was alleged to have said in a conversation recorded by an US agent who had infiltrated the group that blowing up the airport would have been of great symbolic importance and like killing late US president Kennedy again.
"Any time you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States," he was alleged to have said. "They love John F. Kennedy like he's the man .... If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning.
"It's like you can kill the man twice."
He was also alleged to have compared the plot to the September 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center more than five years ago.
"Even the Twin Towers can't touch it," he was alleged to have said. "This can destroy the economy of America for some time."
According to US authorities, the plot went back to January last year and would have involved blowing up buildings, fuel tanks and pipelines at the airport, which handles 1,000 flights and more than 120,000 passengers daily. The pipeline network extends into neighborhoods which could have been devastated.
Defreitas allegedly used his knowledge of airport operations to identify targets and escape routes and assess airport security, while also using satellite photographs of the airport downloaded from the Internet.
Another conversation, in which Kadir, an engineer by training, explained to his alleged co-conspirators that the fuel tanks would require two explosions suggested the plotters had some technical expertise.
White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said only that President George W. Bush had been briefed on the investigation and that the operation was "a good example of international counter-terrorism co-operation."
In the Fort Dix case, the suspects, including a pizza delivery man who allegedly used his job to case the Fort Dix army base, were arrested May 7 as they tried to buy automatic rifles. Two undercover
FBI informers had earlier infiltrated the group.
Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security at the United States
Department of Justice' drew a parallel between the two cases.
"Like the Fort Dix case several weeks ago, this plot highlights the evolving nature of the terrorist threat we face," he said.
"Our investigation into both plots highlights how our agents and prosecutors are refining their capability to detect and pre-empt such plots before they advance to a dangerous stage."
Other alleged plots believed to have been thwarted in New York since the September 11 attacks included a plan to blow up a subway station and another plot to bomb commuter train tunnels linking Manhattan to New Jersey.